In Congress, sharp debate on foreign aid

Some lawmakers want to punish nations like Turkey and France while aiding Israel.

As Congress takes up President Bush's war funding request this week, the hottest debates turn on how to treat those nations who did not join the "coalition of the willing," especially Turkey, France, Germany, and Russia.

Many lawmakers were deeply troubled by Turkey's refusal to allow access for US to mount a northern front in the war, as they were by the refusal of the UN Security Council to back a second resolution authorizing use of force in Iraq.

Both decisions will cost American lives and merit a response, these lawmakers say. Early moves to punish these nations failed votes in committee, including a bid in the House to scrap $1 billion in aid for Turkey and another to exclude France, Russia, and Germany from contracts to rebuild Iraq. But similar efforts could resurface in debates in the full House and Senate.

The implications for future relations with the UN, NATO, and the rest of the world could be enormous. Even clear winners in this week's deliberations, such as Israel, are tracking the deliberations on Capitol Hill with attention and concern.

Unlike the aid to Turkey, the president's request for Israel - $1 billion in military assistance and $9 billion loan guarantees - will likely zip through the congressional process without a hitch.

As Congress began its deliberations, the most influential pro-Israel lobby in the country was meeting in Washington. Fully half the Senate and a third of the House joined more than 2,000 delegates of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for its annual policy dinner on Monday evening. And the message from the top Republicans and Democrats, was the same: Support for Israel is a given.

"We will never abandon Israel. We will never abandon Israel," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who addressed the AIPAC conference on Tuesday.

Still, speakers and delegates openly worried that the diplomatic dangers for Israel will come after the war, when the Bush administration begins patching up relations with the Arab world and the rest of the "unwilling." Already, British lawmakers are pushing Prime Minister Tony Blair to use his clout with Washington to secure concessions from Israel in the peace process and demonstrate an "evenhanded" approach.

"When we see the hysterical anti-Americanism being whipped up in the Middle East, we fear that the way to patch up relations with the Arab world will be for the US to force concessions from Israel," says Herzl Melmed, an AIPAC delegate from California.

Other speakers warned of "great danger" for Israel at the end of this conflict and urged AIPAC members to provide the seed money to build up pro-Israeli groups in Europe.

While congressional support of the aid package for Israel passed virtually without comment, the $1 billion for Turkey raised more of a challenge.

"I don't dislike Turkey, but I'll be darned if I let them get away with costing American lives," said GOP Rep. Randy Cunningham of California, who proposed zeroing out the $1 billion to Turkey.

Others, however, said called for a long view: that Turkey is one of the rare democracies in the region, that its economy is fragile, and that pulling aid now could threaten US troops in Iraq if Turkey withdrew what cooperation it had extended. In the end House panel members settled for a version that conditions Turkey's aid on a finding from the White House that Turkey is supporting the war effort in Iraq.

Similarly, members of the House Appropriations Committee rejected - on an unexpectedly close 27-35 vote - a proposal to exclude those who "publicly expressed opposition" a second UN Security Council resolution to benefit from any funds for reconstruction in Iraq. Such a backlash, now or in foreign aid or investment decisions down the line, could be especially challenging for financially struggling Russia..

But diplomatic implications are big for all involved. "We are all terribly disappointed with France, but do we want to still be on the outs with France in five years?" asked Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska. "We are going to need to reorder ... foreign relations for the 21st century."

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